Pay to Win Episode 2 Script

Dec. 19, 2022

Pay to Win Part 2: Video Games

{== could be a good opportunity to use the big tube tv ==}
Put up a card at the beginning:
"I love the computer, but I love video games, and whatever happens I will always love them." - Jarish, a 12-year-old boy quoted in The Second Self by Sherry Turkle

{-- This is part of a series on the history of video game monetization. In part 1 we looked at some games from the world of gambling, namely betting, pachinko, and slot machines. The most important tendency in gambling is toward speed; slot machine design went from a low-stakes, one-spin game in the 1920s to long, hypnotizing sessions of 1200 spins per hour. With machine gambling, obnoxious exploitative games are the norm. Slot machines can afford to look like garbage, because betting money is inherently interesting.
But there's another type of game, and you may have heard of these: games that are played for fun. A weird concept, but these things are popular. This time we'll be looking at the evolution of the arcade, early home consoles, and the PC scene at the dawn of the internet. --}

{== SOMETHING TO DISCUSS: The basis of monetization is commodified gaming. Only when games become commodities can they be sold (in the case of home consoles) or rented (in the case of arcades). You can't sell hide and seek. ==}

{== How games-as-commodities later interact or conflict with special items like gun skins or NFTs. ==}


Pokemon Red and Blue released for Nintendo's third hit console, the GameBoy, in 1998, just a few months before the Pokemon card game. Both the physical and video games were a phenomenon by November of '99, when the first Pokemon movie, Pokemon: The First Movie released in the U.S. Warner distributed it, and Time magazine, also owned by Warner, published a Pokemon-plastered edition to sneakily promote it. {== the cover ==}

Time was--in 1999--a magazine for the class of suburb dwellers who call money "wealth," people who had been in a kind of ambient moral panic about games and music and everything else for fifty-plus years at this point. By the time of Pokemon, they had lost so many cultural battles that they retreated from reality all together. They couldn't ban video games, they couldn't even stop their kids from trading Pokemon cards, so they just pontificated about them in magazines.

Monsters make for disquieting playmates, no matter how toylike and frivolous they may appear, monsters are unnatrual and, in the end, deal in unresolved fear.

Warner had a stake in promoting the movie, and the Time article reads to me like a high-profile example of outrage marketing. Intense emotions drive sales. A long, morally ambiguous feature about Pokemon's origins, branding, and use of monsters could get it stuck in people's heads. Really, most people just saw the cover, and it added to the ongoing Pokemon fever.

Meanwhile the Satanic Panic latched onto the card game, eager to tell tight-lipped parents that it was made by the same godless D&D players who designed Magic: the Gathering.

The wounds that gave rise to this crusade against children's entertainment many years before were never closed. It's easy to forget the exact geometry of the past, to forget why x or y thing bothered you, but the anxiety--nameless and half-forgotten--digs in. {-- People, on the whole, had less political power by the 90s, and it's reflected in the moral panic itself: nobody will seriously talk about banning Pokemon, because it's not gonna happen. Instead they'll dissect the symbolism of its characters, and fight with prayer instead of politics. --}

This video is about Pokemon, and it's about Nintendo and about the forces that made them a household name. It's about the arcades, the world of gambling, and the crossovers between them. It's a popular history of video games from their mainframe infancy to Nintendo's triumph with all of the moral panic and scummy business that entails.

{== opening goes here ==}


{== Sonic Adventure DX footage has a slot machine/pinball combo. ~57:30 ==}

Title ideas:
Nothing Dies Down Here (RE2)


Last time, I discussed some topics from the world of gambling. But there's another type of game, and you may have heard of these: games played for fun. I want to talk about a subset of those.

You would never pay money to play hide and seek or catch. These are games practically everybody knows and has access to. Even more formalized games like basketball can be played by anybody, so long as you can find a ball and a hoop.

The kinds of games in this video are different. You can play basketball at an arcade, but it's not like playing basketball with your friends. First of all, it's a solitary game that you play against the basketball arcade machine. If you're competing with a friend both of you are still playing in your own boxes, you just compare numbers at the end. Your session is also divided into little sections of time that you pay for. It's like you have to rent the ball and the hoop.

I'm going to call this process that turns basketball into something you can sell commodification. It cuts the game of basketball into regular chunks and sells it to individuals in the arcade, which is an open market for your attention and quarters. Instead of having your game bound by your energy or the amount of sunlight available at the basketball court, it's bound by the exchange of money. Commodifying games is a way of creating scarcity.

You're now paying for a definite quantity of entertainment, say ten minutes worth, and purely as entertainment it is exchangeable with any other game. Maybe you like skiball or Street Fighter more than basketball, but each promises this abstract thing called entertainment. That might sound weird, but people apply this concept all the time; if you look at Steam reviews for indie games you can find lots of people complaining that they cost more than a movie ticket but are shorter than the Avengers. I don't think it's the best way to think of things, but we all do it; most of us share the experience of endlessly browsing Netflix looking for maximum entertainment.

These simple exchanges are the earliest form of monetized gaming, and these games started off alongside slot machines back in the 30s, where they lived in general-audience amusement halls, or arcades [1]. Legal concerns quickly banished slot machines to casinos, leaving arcades as the home of games played for fun. Skiball, another Bagatelle clone like pachinko {== DOOM clone visual joke? DOOM font bagatelle, Heretic font Skiball or something. Show an unfinished trilogy then call back with pinball after. ==} had a brief moment in the sun, but early arcades were all about pinball {== extend the bagatelle-clone joke here with Blood or something ==}.

David Gottlieb's Baffle Ball, released in 1931, is widely cited as the first pinball game [2] [3] [4], although a similar machine was patented 60 years earlier by the delightfully named Montague Redgrave [5] [6]. Baffle Ball doesn't have flippers, so you just watch a ball fall down the playfield. Even these simple games must have been popular, because a moral panic about organized crime and "the children" led the city of New York to ban pinball in 1942 [4]. The mayor at the time described arcade operators as "slimy crews of tinhorns," [4] which was probably a good insult in 1942.

Early pinball was American pachinko, and the slimy tinhorns quickly started making machines with cash payouts [4] [6] [7]. It's unclear if kids had access to these, but they were controversal either way; people associated them with the mafia. There were bigger problems during World War II, but in 1947 pinball was pushed firmly into the realm of actually being fun with the addition of flippers.

{== Some sort of visual, or maybe add a paragraph. ==}

This was more or less pinball's final form, though the technology under the hood changed over time. Today pinball is a game played almost exclusively for fun or high scores, and it balances player skill with the semi-random motion of the ball.

The flippers are the player's main form of control, but you can also push the machine itself to change the path of the ball. Machines have a variety of sensors to stop people from tilting or hitting them, but there are different nudges that players can apply to get an edge if they're careful. People have been finding and abusing glitches for a long time.

The aesthetics of pinball have a lot in common with those of slot machines; there's a reliance on loud sounds, blinking lights, and brand tie-ins. Pinball machines gave us the attract mode: when the machine is not being played it flashes its lights and shows special visuals on its screens to attract players. These features have endured to the present day; attract modes are kind of useful if your screen has burn-in problems, but for the most part they're just a fun relic in modern games.

As games, slots and pinball couldn't be more different. Pinball is constantly forcing players to make decisions and improvise; manipulating the flippers and the machine itself to gain an advantage. Slot machines are totally passive, all they ask for is attention and cash.

Randomness is a big part of both games though. As I poorly explained in the last video, you can make a person do the same thing repeatedly by rewarding them after they do it a random number of times. This is called conditioning, you can make a rat pull a lever in response to a light by making the lever dispense treats at random. Scientists study conditioning using something called a Skinner Box, which handles all of the triggers, rewards, and punishments.

Pinball is a struggle against randomness, and that struggle is what makes the game fun. If players know exactly where the ball is going to go with each shot, the game is no longer challenging or compelling. At the same time, pinball players I've talked to have reported an effect much like the machine zone I described before.

It's not hard to fit a pinball machine in the Skinner Box mold. Our stimulus is the ball's position on the field, and the response is whatever we think the best move is. If we give the wrong response, we're punished with a bad position or a lost ball.

But by that metric most of life fits the Skinner Box mold; all laws and rules are a form of conditioning, studying a textbook just conditions you to give a bunch of very complex responses and the semblance of learning. Even social relations, with their subtle rewards and punishments, are just Skinner Boxes if we look at them reductively.

What we're rubbing up against is the difference between conditioning and learning, the difference between Skinner Boxes and systems of cause and effect.

A slot machine involves the barest amount of learning; all it tells us is that our bet might be multiplied if we press the button {== the actual rules are impossible to keep track of on purpose ==}. It involves no choices on our part. Our pressing of the button, the cause of the reels spinning, has a purely random outcome that is totally detached from that button press, so the rewards are not tied to our skill level.

A pinball machine has a long learning curve, players need to understand how to use the flippers and apply nudges to play, and they need to adapt this knowledge to the subtle differences between machines. The ball can have an infinite number of different positions, and the player needs to optimize their strategy at every moment. Rewards are not random, they are directly tied to what the player does, even if there's a random element.

It's hard to put a fine point on the difference, but I think for now we can say that if a game incentivizes us to do repetitive tasks with unchanging difficulty and random outcomes, then that game has a Skinner Box. {== visual: list, Skinner Box design: repetitive tasks, constant difficulty, randomized outcome==} In pinball, we have repetitive tasks, fairly constant difficulty, but the outcome of any move we make is a result of our skill.

When I say repetition, I don't mean it negatively; there are only so many possible moves in pinball, but they apply to an infinite number of different situations; the mechanics are repetitive but the game is not. We'll have to take games on a case-by-case basis, but I think this is a good start. It's worth pointing out that a game doesn't have to be manipulative to be profitable. Pinball is honestly fun, and it doesn't have to condition players for it to have staying power.


{== this section is all from [8]==}

Pinball went strong for many years, but as electronics developed, so did arcade games. Pinball had been an electromechanical or "EM" game since the 30s, but it was a pretty simple one. They eventually made driving games too, and they used some interesting tricks to simulate driving, but it had all gotten pretty stale by the 60s [8], and most machines were just aesthetic variations of "pinball," "shooting game" or "driving game". That changed when SEGA started what's been called an EM renaissance.

The company we now call SEGA was a Japanese firm that imported old EM games from the States, refurbished them, and put them in its arcades. It was founded by David Rosen under the name Rosen Enterprises. Rosen served in the U.S. Air Force and spent time in Japan during the Korean War. He got his start with photo booths, producing pictures for Japanese ID cards, but eventually moved into game imports.

Service Games, also known as SEGA, was a separate company that made jukeboxes and slot machines for American military bases around Asia. Since they were in similar businesses, Service Games and Rosen Enterprises eventually merged, with Rosen as President and CEO, and became SEGA Enterprises. Rosen noticed how formulaic American games had become, and decided to use SEGA's resources to make original coin-op games. 1966's Periscope was the first, a game where you have to time torpedo shots to hit targets. It was a hit in Japan, so SEGA started exporting the machines to America and Europe.

The American companies, spurred on by the competition, started making original coin-ops and SEGA ripoffs. For a few years, SEGA offered the best entertainment you could get at an arcade, releasing games that are still visually striking today. Despite Rosen's ambition, SEGA's early games were ultimately just permutations on the popular genres "shooting game" and "racing game," although they were standout examples.

There's a really out-of-place interview with Rosen in a 1996 issue of the magazine Next Generation, where I got most of this information. The magazine is obviously targeted at game enthusiasts but Rosen is all business; he started his company to capitalize on a niche, and SEGA got into games because he saw a chance to catch American game makers on their back foot [8].


SEGA's success didn't last long, because arcades transformed again when Atari's game Pong came out in 1972. The early history of video games is pretty murky, and there are many candidates for the first game ever made going back to the 50s. Pong's not one of those, but there's a reason people think Pong was the first video game. It outperformed the earlier arcade video games Computer Space and Galaxy Game by a landslide. 1971's Computer Space was actually developed by the founders of Atari, so it's worth comparing it to Pong to at least guess at why the latter was such a huge success.

Space was on everybody's mind in 1971, as the space race was drawing to a close, and Computer Space was for the kind of people who think calculating rocket trajectories is an interesting problem. Spacewar, the inspiration for Computer Space, was a game played by university students on the PDP-1, a massive computer that was small for the time {== pic in Zotero ==}. As much as people see universities as a cultural battleground, the culture that university students make and participate in just isn't broadly popular. Spacewar was made by computer scientists, and playing it feels just a little too much like work.

It's scientific and abstract; you pilot a ship with outer-space inertia and you can spin in place or move forward with a thruster. 1979's Asteroids is the most popular incarnation of that movement system, and I've always found it frustrating and imprecise; the way that the thruster interacts with turning is very finnicky. It could be fun if the game was nothing but object avoidance but trying to use those controls to fire at targets always struck me as at odds with the movement. Video games were already an established thing when Asteroids came out. Spacewar and its early-seventies descendents are games for people who are already into video games, but when Computer Space came out that was only a few hundred people. Nobody was talking about movement systems in 1971.

Pong is a tennis game; its controls are precise and responsive, and the original game used a potentiometer for movement. You might know these under the trade name, knob. That's weird nowadays, but for the player it's easy to relate how far you've turned the knob to how far up or down your paddle is on the screen. If you play Pong with a D-pad, you have to sort of time your button presses to get the paddle in the right spot, but with a knob there's no "pressing," the player is always engaged with the controller. The paddle can also move as quickly or precisely as the player wants, while a D-pad has a fixed speed.

{== might be a good opportunity for a demo. ==}

When Pong came out, computers were way too expensive to put in a mass-produced box. Pong is a video game, but it's not a computer game by modern standards. There's no code, and they could only store a few bits of memory using flip-flop circuits. Pong was made with 74-series logic and a few triple-5 timers. If you've been spared from learning discrete digital logic, think of Pong like a mechanical watch; if everything is perfectly arranged and timed, the game works like magic. If you have the disease like me, Doctor Hugo Holden wrote a fantastic article about the game's inner workings [9].

General purpose computers, like the one streaming this video to you, are much less elegant than discrete logic but, as it turns out, much more useful. It takes a genius like designer Alan Alcorn to make something cool with discrete logic, but practically anybody could make Pong in Python if they worked at it for a few weekends.

Is Pong a Skinner Box? It's certainly repetitive, you just move a paddle to hit a ball. Its difficulty increases over time, the ball speeds up the longer your rally goes, and it's multiplayer, so difficulty is modulated by the opponent's skill and strategy. The only randomness in the game is that each serve comes from a random spot on the playfield, other than that everything is deterministic. So it's not a Skinner Box, and there actually aren't any Skinner Boxes in these early games.

Randomness had to be used sparingly because of the way arcade games are priced. An arcade player pays for each attempt at the game, and that gives them an expectation of fairness. Randomized enemies or even item drops could turn a potential fan into a lost sale, and arcade games aren't well-suited to the kind of number-heavy randomized gear you see in someting like Diablo. Randomness shows up here and there in arcade games, but developers are careful about it. Pong randomizes each serve, so if the player can accept that the serve is fair, then they also accept responsibility for losing and can think of Pong as a fun challenge rather than a ripoff.

There's a tendency toward consistent, difficult games where players work toward high scores rather than games where you can get a bad run and just lose a quarter. As a consequence, arcade games often reward consistency and mechanical skill rather than your ability to adapt. {++ maybe move this "flow state" stuff ++} Games like this are perfect for getting "in the zone", although it's not exactly the machine zone I discussed before.

Your typical description of a "flow state" requires a skill-testing task and a strong focus on that task. Once you work at it for a while, everything clicks into place and performing the task at hand becomes as easy and immediately satisfying as breathing. I'm kind of an evangelist for this game, but Tetris the Grandmaster 3 embodies the idea of flow for me. At a certain point, you're no longer manipulating a joystick and pressing buttons, it's like your brain is connected to the game and you can play at the speed of thought. Obviously I can't experience it for you, but here's someone agreeing with me.

{== AGDQ 2015 TGM3 show 15:40==}

If you're playing a game where the ultimate objective is a fun challenge, there's nothing wrong with getting in the zone; it's not dangerous or anything. Addiction is possible but not endemic. Gambling on the other hand tends to trap people in a way that games don't. Games have content and friction that you can like or dislike, and they usually have endings. Slots don't have any mechanics beyond the button press, they're a pure implementation of a Skinner Box: press a button, maybe you get a reward. You can get bored of a game, but slots have no mechanics to get bored of, so they induce a kind of delirium or numbness over time. As the conditioning takes hold, this numb continuation becomes the gambler's entire goal, a sort of feedback loop that we understand as an addiction.

This can happen with games, but so long as a game has some content and variety it isn't super likely; the flow state reflects a deep engagement with the game as a challenge to be overcome. That's why I think a changing level of difficulty is such an important part of this equation: variety is anti-addictive, and difficulty curves shut out anyone who's just looking for a dopamine injection. Even if we want to be cynical, arcade games make more money in the long run when more people play them; making a game truly addictive would just lead to players getting really good and cut into profits.

Pong is a very abstract game, but that didn't sour anyone on the idea. Since its controls are so easy to understand, the pitch of "video tennis" is much easier to swallow than the complexities of Computer Space. And people ate it up. Pong's name was synonymous with video games for a long time, and many of the major players in arcade games started with Pong clones. Before long, General Instruments produced "Pong on a chip", an integrated circuit that implemented Pong and some of its derivatives [10, pp. 10-14]. That's why there are so many home Pong games from the seventies: making one was as simple as slapping some off-the-shelf parts together in your faux-wood case of choice and watching the money roll in. {== AVGN Pong Consoles "the wooden age of video games" up to "before circles were invented" ==}

Nintendo actually got their start in video games with a Pong ripoff, the beautifully designed but bog-standard Colour TV Game [11]. Doesn't that name just fill you with wonder?

Space Invaders (Western Distribution, THE BALLY NAME)

The next big money-maker in arcades was 1978's Space Invaders, designed by Tomohiro Nishikado and produced by Taito. Patrick Holleman, who writes books about these sorts of things, calls Space Invaders the earliest game that's still relevant to action game design [12, p. 40]. It introduced a difficulty curve that he calls Nishikado Motion. While making Space Invaders, Nishikado discovered that his game sped up and became more difficult when there were fewer enemies on the screen, a byproduct of the hardware it ran on. He also discovered that this made the game more fun.

In Space Invaders, each level is faster than the previous one, but the start of each level is slower than the end of the previous one {== NEED a visual for this, shouldn't be hard to convey. ==}. This motion in the difficulty gives the player a few moments to relax at the start of each level. Nishikado Motion shows up everywhere but it's particularly obvious in level-based games. Take Pixel's 2015 run-and-gun Kero Blaster, for example: each stage is harder than the previous one, but each stage also has its own difficulty curve. You start in a safe place, then encounter new enemies and obstacles by themselves, then you start to see them in increasingly challenging combinations, then you reach the stage boss. If you've ever played a game and sensed that you're near the end of a level, it's probably your intuitive feeling for the Nishikado Motion.

Arcade games were still pretty simple back in 1978, and Space Invaders has you moving side to side firing at waves of aliens. It's that motion in the difficulty that made the game as compelling as it was.

Space Invaders is not only an early example of excellent Japanese video games, but also opaque, impossible-to-understand distribution agreements. In the United States, Space Invaders was distributed by Midway Manufacturing, and that's the name you'll see on most Space Invaders cabinets. But it's not quite that simple. I had always heard the names Bally, Midway, and Williams--they were the biggest players in pinball, and they got into video games as well--but I was never sure where they fit into gaming history. Well, I kind of figured it out.

Bally left the arcades pretty early to focus on gambling machines, but they acquired Midway in 1969 and it became their label for pinball games. When they realized that their place in the arcade was being taken over by Pong and co., Midway started developing their own video games and licensing games from Japan.

{++ maybe I should look for more sources? ++}

Taito was a Japanese company founded by a Russian guy; it started off distilling vodka and importing jukeboxes, but they eventually got into EM games and then video games.

{== Maybe want a custom web just for this bit, then show the whole mess later. ==}

Aside from Bally, there's also Bally Distribution Company, started by William Redd, a guy who went on to buy the publisher of Computer Space. Bally Distribution was purchased by Bally Manufacturing in the 70s and William Redd went on to found International Game Technology, one of the world's biggest slot machine makers. Williams, no relation to William Redd, was an early innovator in pinball. They were purchased by a jukebox company in 1964, then sold to some guy named Louis Nicastro in 1980 who took the company public and turned Williams into a hotel business. They became WMS Industries in 1987, and they bought Bally Midway Manufacturing Company, the games division of Bally. WMS got into slot machines in 1994, where they pioneered licensed slots. They're one of the reasons pinball and slots look so similar, a lot of the machines were made by the same companies.

WMS was in turn purchased by a gambling machine company called Scientific Games in 2013. Scientific Games also bought what was left of Bally's gambling operation a year later. The company rebranded itself as Light & Wonder in 2022, a name you might remember from the last video. It's the successor to Autotote, which sold machines to calculate the odds on horse races. So there's a direct line from some of the first gambling machines, through the entire history of arcades, to the massive hotel-and-casino conglomerates of today.

I could go on about this forever, but basically every arcade game company is tied to the gambling industry, either directly or through agreements with Bally/Midway/Williams. I spent a long time making this web of companies, which is still nowhere near finished, and while I was doing it the image that the game industry presents at its press conferences started to collapse for me. The entire legacy of the industry is tied to the naked exploitation of gambling machines, to the scummiest businesses imaginable, to the mob, to the Yakuza. Nordic Games started as a Swedish GameStop. SEGA's namesake made slot machines. The incarnation of SEGA that made its first video games was owned by Gulf-Western, the oil extraction company turned media conglomerate.

Polly Bergen company source [13]

It's not super surprising that everybody in games is related. Business in the game industry happens at trade shows, a breeding ground for confusing corporate spiderwebs. But it does elucidate the fact that Diablo Immortal, or Genshin Impact, or EA's Loot Boxes aren't missteps in the history of games, they're more of a return to form. It begs some big questions that I will try to answer over the course of this series:

What is the nature of video games? Can we separate them from what they've become, or were they always just Skinner Boxes with extra steps?

Warner Communications bought Atari, the first video game company, in 1976 [14] [15], four years after Pong and one year before the Atari 2600. Warner's game division went on to produce MultiVersus, a third-rate Smash Brothers clone with microtransactions grafted on {== oooh, shop coming soon! ==}.

{-- Sorry for the digression here, but --} Warner really epitomizes what the entertainment industry is all about. The web of corporations, which connects the worst of companies and the so-called best of them, is at times confusing and nauseating, but Warner is trying to make the world of corporate entertainment portfolios into something broadly appealing. Disney does this as well, but they are far too competent to make something like Space Jam: A New Legacy, which presents a hellish vision of the present. Like Ready Player One, which Warner also produced, Space Jam 2 takes place inside a video game, wherein Lebron James has to save his son by playing basketball or something. But since they couldn't fucking help themselves the entire movie is flush with Warner properties.

LeBron and his son are sucked into "the computer" and its interior universe is a genuine cosmology of the corporation. LeBron travels between labelled planets that represent each property. I might be overthinking this but the movie quietly depicts each planet in the Warner mediaverse as a unique digital object; a way of telling us that pirating or modifying intellectual property is theft. Like you're stealing from these planets.

{== intellectual property is a relatively recent invention, and large firms are incentivized to reinforce property rights as inalienable and True rather than depict the fact that they are a recent and historically contingent invention that mainly serves to protect The House of Mouse. ==}

For whatever reason LeBron gets all the Looney Tunes on his basketball team and they convene on basketball mobile game planet for teh most epiczorz game of all time. If you are lucid enough to wipe the blood from your eyes, note that the audience is made up entirely of characters from Warner properties. This portfolio-in-motion is the real star of the movie. Its plot is the barest skeleton meant to frame a bizarre dollar sign orgy. I can't really get inside the minds of those people that look for easter eggs in everything, but I imagine these movies are basically their slot machines.

Warner thought this was such a great concept that they carried it over to MultiVersus, which features Space Jam 2 LeBron along with a cast of characters precision-engineered to get as much attention as possible. The game debuted with a massive ad campaign targetting streamers and has a roster featuring "Epic Shaggy," recent popular cartoons that the target audience probably watched, Gog and Magog from Warner's upcoming Space Jam: Revelation {== Richard and Mortimer ==}, and the Iron Giant in his role as the mascot for nostalgia.

What Warner represents is a process that has gone on for as long as corporations have existed. It's the natural movement of business, of acquiring a successful company, cutting it up, keeping what you want, and throwing out the rest. Each merger and acquisition represents at best job insecurity for the people who make games. Maybe they'll get fired, or maybe they'll just have to endure worse crunch and abusive management.

The reward for those of us who play games is the inability to tell who made anything; Atari's name shows up everywhere but, a lot like Bally, it represents a hundred different studios and businesses.

Here's some games: Unreal Tournament for Dreamcast, Ikaruga for GameCube, Namco Museum Remix for Wii, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, and the 2019 Blood remaster. All of these were published by the holding company called Atari [16].

Atari should be a presitigious name associated with the games that started this whole thing, but they shamble on in the French company Atari SA, formerly Infogrames Entertainment, who has been selling bits and pieces of the company since 2012, mainly to Namco Bandai {== nothing dies here RE2 ==}. I'm sure everybody has noticed this, but it seems like nothing is allowed to end or go away any more. Project budgets have gone up, which means the risks of creativity aren't worth it for executives. All existing properties have proven value, so nothing is allowed to die.

Atari created a crypto token in 2020 [17] and partnered with a crypto game called the Sandbox [18] [19]. They were joined there by Warner Entertainment, Ubisoft, the Care Bears and a disappointing number of artists. Atari also opened a casino in Decentraland in April of 2021, and according to an investor presentation from that year, they also want to license Atari's name and characters for hotels and slot machines [20, pp. 25-28]. They were going to build a bunch of hotels themselves, but I think that fell through. The website is still up, and it has a weird fiction section straight out of an NFT sales pitch [21].

{== ctrl+f "Korean", read each instance and laugh ==}

Pac-Man (Arcade Games and The Culture)

The last classic Arcade game I want to talk about is 1980's Pac-Man, designed by Toru Iwatani for Namco. It was the next "biggest game ever," deposing Space Invaders as the top-seller. Arcades at the time had a reputation as weird, dark places where men congregated to do video game violence, and Iwatani wanted Pac-Man to invite women and couples into arcades, to make the places more broadly appealing. To this end, the game focused on having real art direction, and from the beginning it was a game about eating, rather than killing.

There were beautiful video games before Pac-Man, but in a lot of early games the crude graphics were seen more as a limitation than an opportunity. An arcade machine can't render a lot of colours, so Pac-Man's characters get one colour each. An arcade machine can't show complex art, so Pac-Man's ghosts have simple, expressive eyes while the man himself is just an opening and closing mouth. The maze walls are rounded, a more natural and inviting shape than the clearly computer-rendered edges of Pong. The walls are coloured so that they announce themselves to the player without being visually overwhelming; the characters, dots, and power-ups take center stage and the screen is immediately readable.

Pac-Man has its own spin on Nishikado Motion; at the start of a level, you're rewarded no matter where you move since every space has a dot to eat. As you clear more of the screen, you need to not just avoid the ghosts but outsmart them to get the last few dots, so the game gets more complicated as you progress through a level. Pac-Man's ghosts were an early example of AI; each ghost behaves differently, and the player gets to know each one as they play. This knowledge becomes useful pretty quickly, because the speed of play increases between levels and the power ups get less effective.

Arcade games are famously difficult, and Pac-Man is no exception. I said earlier that arcades privilege consistent difficulty over randomness, that's a choice developers have to make, because a player's time on the machine needs to be limited somehow. The problem doesn't have a one-size-fits-all solution. Sports games were the first successful genre, and they could be limited by the rules of the game. In Atari's Drag Race for example you get four races per credit which works out to a few minutes per quarter. Your time is limited, but it's contextualized by the gameplay.

1975's Interceptor, produced by Taito, might be the first single player game that limits you with a timer. It could also be Taito's Attack U.F.O. released a year earlier, but there's no footage of that game as far as I know. In Interceptor you shoot down as many planes as you can before time runs out. Even for 1975 timers feel like an artificial limit on the game; the player doesn't beat the game, it just ends. Ending a game after an arbitrary amount of time is unsatisfying because it's out of the player's control, it feels like you lost for no reason.

By the time of Pac-Man, difficulty was the main limiting factor. The challenge is already part of the fun, and using a steep-ish difficulty curve keeps the early-game accessible while giving players an ongoing challenge to keep them coming back. Lots of games record high scores, adding a battle for status into the mix too. It's good for business, and generally makes games more fun to play. I like hard arcade-style games but I was surprised at how difficult some of these games were. If you've never played Defender I think you'll be surprised at how tough shoot-em-ups were even in the 80s. Defender doesn't have the eye-searing hyperfocused death mazes of later shoot-em-ups, but it makes up for it with raw speed, and movement that's complex but way more fun than Asteroids.

{== Play Batsugun for footage ==}

The fruit that Pac-Man can eat for extra points was inspired by the fruit symbols on slot machines, which Iwatani says were "American and cool" when he was working on the game [22]. Pac-Man's success cemented an often overlooked fact of game design: people like to pick stuff up in games. Pac-Man offers us points, progression, and a satisfying sound whenever he eats something. It's not exactly a Skinner Box, but pickups definitely tap into our reward system. Pac-Man's dots aren't just some meaningless, frivolous reward though, they represent our progress through each level, and the objective to collect them forces us to interact with the ghosts. They're a reward that we get for facing the game's challenge.

{~~ The pickups play a role spiritually similar to 1976's Blockade, developed by Gremlin, which you might recognize as Snake. Collectibles are both challenge and reward; we're thrown into the difficulty of the game by trying to collect dots, and collecting dots rewards us with points, prestige, and even more difficulty. ~> this is completely untrue, Blockade is Snake-esque but doesn't have Snake's exact gameplay. ~~}

Arcades had been growing in popularity ever since Pong, but they exploded in the early 80s, at least in the U.S. and Canada. It's easy to pin that on Pac-Man, but the period was packed with now-classic games. Arcades were making serious money, and by 1982 the media was doing what it always does. There was a lot of anxiety about computers in the 80s; people were starting to realize that small, cheap computers were something unimaginably powerful. Local news, a steadfast ally of America's neurotic middle class, was happy to capitalize on that fear.

{== good time for the "pac-men" clip ==}

The anxiety was directed away from computer companies and toward kids, as usual. Reporters appear in these segments poised as observers of video games, rather than players. They like to lean on the pinball machines, on the comfort of old, familiar games. Video games are framed as alien things, only understood by helplessly addicted teenagers and sweaty, bearded game developers. The fear of pinball died down somewhere after World War 2, but it wasn't resolved so much as forgotten, and arcades never lost their mafia associations, at least in the public imagination. Video games were just the newest poison peddled by those slimy crews of tinhorns in loud, dark arcades.

The parents of these kids might have played pinball, but clearly they didn't make the connection, because a moral panic caused a sharp decline in arcade revenues through 1982 [23]. The Surgeon General, a person who was taken seriously for some reason, also denounced the "moral and physical effects of video games" adding that "he had no scientific evidence on the effect of games on children" but that he was sure something would come up soon [24]. Nothing came up, if you were wondering.

{== show the news reporters leaning on pinball tables in the above paragraph somewhere. ==}

Today's Arcades (Reckoning With the History of Arcades)

Today, arcades are nothing like the arcades of old. Video games were novelties to some extent even in the 70s and 80s, but they were also something genuinely new, and the form endured. Their waning popularity in 1982 was part market saturation, part moral panic, and video games disappeared as a cultural force for a while.

Arcades now are places made entirely out of novelty and nostalgia. Sometimes there are older cabinets, but most arcades I've been to are full of games that pay out tickets or games with weird, novelty controllers. This makes sense: arcades have to compete with home consoles so they have to offer something unique, and what many developers have decided on is a series of increasingly complicated rhythm game control schemes. It's not fair to just dismiss these as novelties; they're super popular, fun, and difficult, and they bring a level of physicality you don't get with regular controllers. At the same time DDR, Beatmania, and games like them are very clearly born from market conditions.

Those games are more of a force in Japan, where arcades are much more popular than in North America. Here, arcades are usually nostalgia pieces, bolted on to restaurant-slash-axe throwing-slash-bowling-slash-minigolf facilities so that the place can draw in some extra quarters and add another bullet point to the sign out front.

What other fate could the industry have? Its history is dangerously close to the world of hotel-casinos, places of nothing but novelty, where they'll get people to do a circus performance over your head if it makes you put another dollar in the slot machine. It's no coincidence that America's pinball and arcade industry collectively moved into Vegas real estate, and the arcade industry banked on novelty controllers.

Game design itself is a casualty of the arcade's past; like the attract modes borrowed from pinball machines, Skinner Box design has stayed with us, and it remains at the heart of many games. You might not believe me yet; it's hard to see these forces as they develop, and the process will only become obvious when we look back on it. This is all to say that arcade games were mostly spared; game design was in its infancy and the hardware was too limited to make a really compelling Skinner Box game. But they were destined to re-emerge somewhere down the line.

If there's anything true about the video game panic, it's that computers were well on their way to changing everything. There was no shortage of people with psychology degrees making up negative effects of video games, but a few rightly saw that computers were going to make us lonelier and more isolated. Arcades were places where people congregated, but the experience of playing Pac-Man is a solitary one. Looking back, these kids had it good: you could at least hang out with your friends in an arcade, even if the games were mostly one or two-player.

People knew there was something unprecedented at the arcade, but the fear was directed inward and downward, toward kids and games, while the shadow of miniaturized computers grew longer.

{== observation: The idea of democracy's public sphere is based on the false assumption that there is an objective and omnipotent observer-reporter, who not only acts as a simple information relay but also filters out the unimportant for the important (which may require future knowledge to do). The way liberal democracy conceives of journalism is the same way economists conceive of people: perfect rational actors. Even if games were bad for kids, industrial computing has a far wider impact. ==}

For me, the whole ground that games stand on has been shaken. Every big name from the arcade era, the Konamis {== slot machines ==}, Capcoms {== pachinko ==}, Taitos {== actually they're cool but associate with the American gambling companies ==}, Williams', Midways, and Ataris are not just connected to gambling but to the slots. I knew about Konami and Bally, but it seems like there's no separating games and slots. We won't see Skinner Boxes come back in full force for a while, but think about it: modern slots became the powerful machines they are not by inventing something new, but by speeding up and intensifying the one-armed bandits of old.

If we want to get abstract about it, slots manipulated an old design pattern, brought it to its logical conclusion, and made boatloads of money. There is an obvious candidate in video games for doing the same thing. Since we started keeping score in sports we've known that making a number go up feels good. Games added collectible score-raising trinkets to the mix. The pattern is: collect an object, a money-esque sound plays, and a number goes up. In the arcade, score gave you prestige because it put you on the leaderboard, but with home video games score didn't have to be a reward for good players. Arcade games also needed to be short, to get more quarters, so there were natural limits on scoring systems. Home games were about to overcome these restrictions.

{== VO session 3 finished here==}

Early Home Consoles (Video Games Are Not a Fad)

It's hard to pinpoint firsts, but one of the earliest strategy guides I can find is 1981's How to Master the Video Games, released for $2.95 at the peak of the arcade's dominance. Video games have always been a spiritual matter, and the book treats its subject with the modestness and seriousness of a monk, or an obscure GameFAQ writer who arrived fourteen years early.

{== Show: ==} Cave Story FAQ

This book explains the principles on which the games are based. An understanding of how they work can lead not only to improved technique, but to a clearer comprehension of the technology influencing our lives daily. Mainly though, I want readers to get the scores they want.

[25, p. 2]

At the end of the book, the author, Tom Hirschfeld, offers a short epilogue on home video games. His voice is a progressive one, he says that the inferior graphics of home games are a trade-off for the convenience and customizability of home consoles, with their wide spectrum of difficulty options and modes [25, pp. 171-172]. Not even gaming's biggest acolytes knew that those tradeoffs were only a few years from disappearing.

{++ make this section more funny and/or interesting ++}

Pre-NES (Up to Video Game Crash)

Games were destined to leave the arcade, and we can pick up that thread with the Atari 2600, also known as the Video Computer System, relased in 1977 for $189.95 US, around $900 in today's money. Like Pong, the 2600 was not the first of its kind but it was the best of its kind, sporting colour graphics and games that were revolutionary at the time. The 2600 was the home game console for years, although there was lots of competition, and it offered over 500 games by the end of its life.

Most of these games, even the first-party ones, are not very good by modern standards. Atari's version of Pac-Man is pretty playable, but if you squint at this comparison you might notice that the graphics are not quite arcade-perfect. The 2600 can't show all the ghosts at once, so they constantly flash in and out of view. Ms. Pac-Man has the same problem.

I could point out problems all day but these were genuine video games you could play at home, almost as challenging and fun as their arcade counterparts. People were doing most of the graphics processing with their imaginations anyway, and the best games on the 2600 were mechanically on par with their arcade parents. Design-wise the 2600 never got beyond the arcades; it was too primitive for anything but the simplest of games.

Many of the big, important arcade ports were developed by Atari themselves; Pac-Man, Defender, Galaxian, Space Invaders, and Mario Brothers among them. Donkey Kong was an exception; Eric Bromley, a hardware engineer at Coleco, basically sniped the home license for Shigeru Miyamoto's first game, and it was bundled with the ColecoVision while the 2600 got an inferior port [26].

Atari accidentally came up with the de-facto standard policy for third party games. Activision, a company started by Atari programmers fed up with their unfair salaries, started releasing super-successful games like Pitfall for the 2600, so Atari sued them for stealing trade secrets [27]. Activision eventually agreed to pay Atari a fee to put their games on the 2600, and this is still how console publishing is done today [28]. Back then Activision's founders thought designers should be credited on the boxes of games. Today the company is stuck in an endless series of scandals about its awful treatment of staff.

Licensing basically meant free money for Atari, so they gave up quality for raw quantity. Even first-party games were no guarantee of quality. But these weren't arcade games anymore; cartridges cost anywhere from 12 to 40 dollars [29] {== Sears catalog, there are also video ads with prices ==} and you were stuck with what you had. If you play a bad arcade game, it's no big deal, you lost 25 cents. Console games are a much bigger commitment, and in the 2600 days there was no quality control and almost nobody reviewing games, so you kind of just had to gamble on every purchase. This all famously came to a head when Atari released their E.T. tie-in game.

It is awful, ugly, and nonsensical. As far as I can tell it has nothing to do with the movie. Even if there was an obvious goal the game is mostly about walking around abstract two-toned landscapes as this awful creature. E.T. didn't crash the video game market single-handedly, but it was the straw that broke the camel's back. The arcade and home markets contracted in 1983. There were too many consoles, too many games, and too many bad games. Computers were always getting cheaper, and game consoles started to see competition from PCs.

The home market crashed, the arcade market slowed down, and "video game" became a dirty word. Games were still going strong in Japan, though, where a company called Nintendo released their Family Computer console in 1983 after a series of arcade hits. Many of Nintendo's early arcade games were unimaginative Space Invaders variations, or video-fied traditional games like Othello [30]. They switched gears toward creativity later on, but Nintendo was spiritually equivalent to those awful 200-in-1 plug and plays up until the 80s.

The company started in 1889 as a manufacturer of Hanafuda playing cards, which was and is kind of an iffy business. Playing cards are often used in gambling games, and they've been banned in Japan at various times in its history. Playing cards were tolerated by the time Nintendo came around, although people were definitely still gambling, because everybody likes to gamble. This is sort of like blaming Bicycle for how casinos operate, but there's a real connection between Nintendo and Japan's illegal gambling dens.

They more or less left that business after their 1981 game Donkey Kong was a smash hit. It was designed by Shigeru Miyamoto on hardware from the commercial failure Radar Scope, a Space Invaders ripoff. Donkey Kong was an early foray into platforming, a return to the intuitive simulated physics of a game like Pong that saw you jumping, climbing, and smashing. This was so important and novel that they literally called the player character jumpman.

Donkey Kong's single screen nature makes it feel like a kind of Rube Goldberg machine; it's fun to watch the game logic play itself out on the screen, with clockwork waves of fireballs and barrels that are just unpredictable enough to challenge you if you try to climb. Traversing levels demands precise jumps, well-timed ladder climbing, and use of the hammer. The hammer music is a joyful changeup that diffuses the game's tension; it makes you much safer for a few seconds, and this is an idea Miyamoto brought back with the stars in Super Mario Brothers.

Donkey Kong isn't all that tense, either. Its dead-simple story, which you can figure out entirely through the positioning of Donkey Kong, Jumpman, and Pauline on screen, was supposed to be frivolous and funny. Mario's not very nice to his pet gorilla, so the gorilla kidnaps his girlfriend. The stakes are low, just an excuse to play the game [31, p. 76].

I would love to see some of those crazy slot machine displays converted into a two-storey tall Donkey Kong level, but that'll probably never happen.

Japan didn't exactly have a video game crash, but there was a moral panic around arcades. I characterized pachinko as a kind of Japanese equivalent of slots, but Japan has lots of off-the-books gambling machines too. I don't have many English sources, but according to the trade magazine Game Machine, there was a scandal in 1982 because Japanese police were taking bribes from machine operators, so they would ignore video poker and slot machines. After this came out, the police seized 47,000 gambling machines to save face, more than half of the ones they knew about [32, p. 30].

The police stayed on high alert, and by 1985 there was a new law governing "businesses which may affect public morals" [33, p. 26]. Kids under 16 couldn't come to arcades after 6:00PM [33, p. 26] [34, p. 30], and the places had to close by midnight. This was not good for operators, who eventually had to drop the prices on their games to get people in the door at all [35, p. 22]. As this happened, the success of the Famicom convinced Nintendo to leave Japanese arcades for good [35, p. 22]. There were hearings and panics about the Famicom, too, but Nintendo got out more-or-less unscathed [35, p. 22].


{== Famicom uses a 6502, same processor as the Atari 2600, the PPU makes all the difference. ==}

Nintendo wanted to sell the Famicom in the U.S., but they knew that no retailer wanted to carry yet another game console, and nobody really wanted to buy another console either. So in 1984 they devised the VS. System, arcade versions of Famicom games running on Famicom hardware. They didn't require any expensive engineering, so there was no risk, and the series was a success, so they knew people liked their games, and Nintendo got to work Americanizing the Famicom.

The NES is the archetypal video game console today, but Nintendo tried to avoid the phrase 'video game' altogether; it was an entertainment system with a control deck and game paks. It had a weird, VHS-like cartridge loader so that it didn't remind people of the 2600.

More importantly, Nintendo actually learned from the video game crash. The Famicom had tons of unlicensed cartridges, but unlicensed games were a major problem in the States. In the west there was still debate about the whole concept of video games, and every bad game was a case against the medium. So Nintendo patented a system, called 10NES, to lock out unlicensed games, and introduced the Nintendo Seal of Quality for authorized cartridges.

People figured out ways around this; Nintendo decided that games shouldn't have religious imagery after Zelda, so Christian game makers were an early pioneer in cracking Nintendo's DRM.

The NES was only a moderate success at first, but word got around. Nintendo games were good, and they looked good too. We know now that video games were destined to stick around, but I think the NES was what closed that particular case in people's minds.

Because the games were really good. The original Super Mario Brothers is a perfect, short statement. It's a game for everyone not because it's loaded down with tutorials and childish imagery, but because it's a simple game about the joy of moving a virtual character, and that's all anyone needs.

A million people have explained 1-1 at this point, and they do it because Super Mario Brothers communicates so effortlessly, invites us to play it so elegantly that it's easy to miss. It was the perfect game to bundle with the NES, like Wii Sports was a perfect introduction to the Wii. It's almost corny to say at this point, but Super Mario Brothers was Nintendo's quiet declaration of a new era.

Pac-Man was arguably the peak arcade video game. It has one level. Mario has 36 levels and, while it does have a very rudimentary story, it also gives the player a sense that they're on a journey. Instead of Pac-Man's inevitable end by death or glitch, in Super Mario Brothers we can overcome the challenge and beat the game. Modern games came into view, fully formed, in 1985.

A AAA game, or really any successful game today could not be about playing one level over and over. Games have to have a lot of content now, so AAAs reskin one huge level and release it as a separate game every couple years {== Far Cry 3 4 5 6 ==}. There were games you could beat before Super Mario Brothers, but E.T. on the 2600 was never going to be appreciated, because all the content in the world is pointless without a fun set of mechanics.

The NES had quantity too. There's the original Zelda, which has a Druaga-inspired opacity at first but rewards you for delving into its world. There's Zelda 2, the first Souls-like game. The Mega Man games, a series of near-flawless action platformers, and the jewel in Nintendo's incredibly large, ornate, crown, Super Mario Brothers 3.

The Wizard is an awful movie that made 14 million dollars because it had footage of the upcoming Super Mario Brothers 3. That's how big this game was going to be. The trailer shrewdly shows only the title screen, and the movie offers a tantalizing minute or two of Mario running around while children shout random things. Apparently nobody involved in the movie had actually played Mario 3 when they wrote the script.

The Wizard is one of the most extravagant examples of merchandising a game has ever seen, but Nintendo was no stranger to watches, pins, keychains, plush toys, wall decals, phones, batteries, lead poisoning, pool tubes, flags, pencils, scoreboards, or soap pumps either. In the 2020s, the death of physical games has made brick-and-mortar game stores a dumping ground for this stuff, which somehow continues to be purchased just so it can reappear Garfield-phone-like on beaches and landfills throughout the world.

The Wizard is also kind of a strategy guide, it shows you how to get two of the warp whistles. Guides, another way to make money from a game, were coming into their own around this time, and were often produced by Nintendo themselves. The Official Nintendo Player's Guide from 1987 has lots of useful info for over 90 NES games. Guides are fun, but they represent how solitary an activity gaming had become. Up until the NES, you would have to learn about games by playing them and talking to people. There's a very influential game I mentioned earlier, Tower of Druaga, which barely even makes sense in a modern context.

It came out in 1984, after the Famicom but before the console's heavy hitters. In Druaga, you have to climb a sixty-storey tower with proto-Zelda gameplay, but there's a trick. Every floor has a hidden treasure, some useful, some not, and getting the treasures to spawn requires you to do a whole bunch of secret, counterintuitive stuff, like pass through two seemingly-random points or block a spell from a certain enemy while moving. You need some of these to kill the last boss. Druaga seems random at first, but it's not, it's just secretive. It's so easy to spoil yourself now that most developers wouldn't even try to make a game like this; the wiki is just a part of playing the Souls games for most people, myself included.

Druaga came to the Wii's Virtual Console in 2009 and reviewers hated it [36] [37] [38], but it was a huge success in the arcades. See, you can either play Druaga by trial and error or, what I think is the better way, by talking to your friends about it. The game is a social activity, much more than any co-op game or multiplayer shooter. For all the convenience and artistry that the NES made possible, we did lose something when arcades went away.

I'm pretty much a hermit, and before computers became widespread that wasn't really a viable way to live; we had to be social to live decent lives, and I think that's a good thing. I grew up caught in the spectacle of games and later the internet, and it's taken me years to learn how to behave socially. Socialization is something most of us take for granted--it's pretty common to call people "social animals," after all--but the isolating effects of technology are real, and they're compounding pretty fast.

Society, and our character as individuals, emerges from our relationships with one another. You and I do not exist alone; all communication requires an audience, real or imagined, and we wouldn't have inner monologues without first talking to others. A person by themselves is just another animal, capable of eating but not thinking. Every new convenience that involves a poor person silently delivering you something from a grocery store makes us just a little bit colder, lonelier, and less human. It also makes us less able to organize politically, which is very useful if you're invested in this whole thing not imploding.

I don't blame computers or games for stripping our humanity, not entirely. Obviously kids should not sit in front of a screen for 12 hours a day. But people were not wrong to be afraid; we never got the chance to consent to the world we live in now, companies did everything they could to make their business decisions look like the inevitable movements of nature, so computers appeared suddenly as these alien things, like a hurricane. It's not fair to call people luddites for questioning computers, even if they can't articulate where their anxiety comes from.

But there's no going back now; the world we're born into is raw material for us to shape in big and small ways. It might be naive, but I think developing an understanding of how things got this way is a good start if you want to change them.

Strategy guides are cool I guess, I got this cloth map that came with a Twilight Princess guide, don't know if I still have the book.

The first game I ever played was a Game Boy Advance version of Mario 3 released in 2003, a spin on the 1993 SNES version of the 1990 NES game. {== DO MATCH CUTS WITH DIFFERENT VERSIONS HERE, IT'LL LOOK REALLY COOL!! ==} Nintendo is somehow both highly protective of its legacy and horribly obnoxious about it at the same time. They'll take down YouTube videos of their music, but also release fifteen broken versions of all their old games. {== SMB1 for GBA ==} The company's been rewarded for sticking to its guns in many ways; without their devotion to weird control schemes like the cable that connects your GameBoy to your GameCube, there would be no Wii or DS. Without their philosophy of "lateral thinking with withered technology," [31, p. 18] we would have 2002-realistic Zelda instead of the stylistically immortal Wind Waker.

And these ways don't really make them money, at least not quickly, but Nintendo's quirks buy them loyalty. Die-hard Nintendo fans are always talking about the next Mario game, or the next Zelda game, or the next Metroid game or whichever series they like. It's not too surprising that Nintendo corporate would want to protect that intellectual property. In the mind of whoever came up with their policies, Nintendo lives and dies on the names and identities of its characters, so those characters can't be handed out to just anybody.

This goes back even to the NES; they didn't just enforce quality standards on licensees, but explicit content standards. The most famous instance is the removal of blood in the SNES port of Mortal Kombat, which made Nintendo a kids toy pretty much up until the Switch came out. The company's always been concerned about controlling its public image.

Shrine Spite

Nintendo may not want other people using its history, but they've always been keen to capitalize on it. I usually find this pretty charming; WarioWare is full of little homages to Nintendo's old games and toys, and the Pikmin games have you excavate stuff like Nintendo's love tester. But it feels to me like the big games, the Marios and Zeldas, have crossed a line. Breath of the Wild sees you pick through the mud of Nintendo's own legacy collecting immersion damaging nostalgia bait armour sets. These sets are a punishment for wanting to play the new content in Breath of the Wild's DLC.

I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for a game, but the nostalgia armour forces me to confront the fact that this convincingly sincere product published by a billion dollar company might not be so sincere. If everything in the game constitutes its world, then Breath of the Wild contains all of the boring, petty conversations about its timelines and canon objectified through these armour sets. Of course the truth is, whoever decided that this stuff had to be in the game didn't care about its world.

{== Nintendo Switch shirt ==}

I can't lie, my first experience with Breath of the Wild was magical; despite its flaws it's probably the best game in the series if I take my nostalgia goggles off. But it falls apart for me on close inspection. The original Zelda was a game meant to capture "the spirit of a kid when he enters a cave alone" [39, p. 81]. The series quickly became about being the next Zelda game, flush with explanations for the legendary origin of Link's hat and shirt and sword and socks. Like a lot of Zelda games, at some moments Breath of the Wild becomes a masterpiece, but often it's content to just tell you how important it all is. It's incredible that they made a game as atmospheric as Breath of the Wild and decided that it's story should be told with goofily voice acted cutscenes.

{== that's Kaneda's bike from Akira ==}

Why are there coins in Mario? The first few games are difficult, and you can get extra lives from coins. By the time of Mario 3 you get lives just for breathing. By the time of Mario Sunshine they're basically a formality, with no punishment for a game over.

It's tempting to say there are coins in Mario because there always were and leave it at that. But the people at Nintendo aren't dumb; they understand that collecting coins is satisfying in a certain way. I think a lot of AAA studios have discovered that an easy way to give games a veneer of meaningful content is to just put items you can pick up everywhere. Pickups are necessary in Pac-Man, but nothing about Mario's mechanics require a world saturated with number-incrementing money facsimiles: the early games are lighter on collectibles and they're better for it.

A not-insignificant chunk of Mario Sunshine ($60, 2002), is spraying a wall for a little while, then picking up a blue coin that appears or spraying a wall for a little while, then picking up a blue coin that appears somewhere else. These aren't fun, and they aren't puzzles. I'm tempted to say that this is only in the game because it was so rushed. The thing is, it didn't stop with Sunshine.

By the time Mario Odyssey ($60, 2017) came around the entire game was swallowed by a compulsion to pick loose change off the ground. {== Ryujinx desktop capture ==} Oh my Switch is lagging, weird. Coins appear in disgusting quantity and your goal is to collect an endless number of Moons by performing tasks that barely qualify as puzzles or challenges. Joseph Anderson made this case pretty decisively in his review, but Odyssey's challenges boil down to collecting an easy-to-reach Moon in front of you, talking to somebody, or destroying a random box.

A smarter man than me said:

{== Meta Microvideos 6:45 ==}

Mario is becoming a series about picking shit up, with incredible 3D movement systems that never quite hide the carrots on sticks you spend the whole game chasing. Random rewards are the best way to condition people, but the second best way is to reward them every time.

It seems like we've accepted that a little jingle and an incrementing number are suitable rewards in games. It's such an obvious psychological trick that it often goes unexamined, but pickups and counters are replacing gameplay more and more. In Mario 64 you get a star after completing a major chunk of content. Odyssey does not have an equivalent for this, there are just Moons everywhere and interesting platforming challenges are sparse. You just break random stuff or search slightly hidden areas. over 100 of the Moons are literally just sitting there, and collecting them is a basically mindless activity. The kingdoms are largely uninteresting, a fact that's reflected in their generic names, so exploration for its own sake isn't appealing either. They're mostly just lightly themed areas with some self-contained activities sprinkled around, that don't aspire to a sense of cohesion or place.

It's level design more in line with a Garry's Mod construct map than that of a game widely hailed as the nostalgia time machine that will finally send you back to your childhood. Which is a desirable quality in games for some reason.

When you detach rewards from achievements, when you string players along without them really doing anything, the game becomes a simple dopamine feeder, manipulating a naive player's mental state without their awareness. It just rewards you for doing nothing, all the time. Odyssey is very clearly a game for children, so the only incentive I can see for it having 880 mundane Moons and 800 million coins is that Nintendo wants to create strong positive memories in little kids, so they can become future customers. Kind of a conspiracy theory, I know, but I don't think Nintendo's developers design their games by accident.

Mario 64 is a game dripping with atmosphere, full of strange hidden places. It was good for kids but it also holds up because it captures the strangeness and sense of discovery that permeates childhood. Odyssey is the checklist trading card of Mario games, quite a bit less than the sum of its parts.

{== SB Nation trading card vid ==}

It has levels designed by rote, a totally joyless interface, and a story best described as obligatory. When you design a game without any friction, it also has to give up its character. Any Odyssey fans watching this video can probably recognize that making definite statements will alienate people. You have to make a decision to agree or disagree with me. Games are the same way. A distinctive game can't be loved by everyone, because its qualities confront us as we play; we have to decide if we enjoy it or not.

Odyssey could distinguish itself with its movement, it's probably the best in the series, but the game never asks us to get good at playing it, the whole experience is filler that squanders Odyssey's potential, so the actual experience of playing the game is white noise. Even high level players rely mostly on chained cap jumps, which are powerful enough to overcome basically any underhand softball the game tosses at you.

Odyssey condescends to players because it's afraid that we won't like it, all of its objectives and design display a smoothness that's difficult to hate but impossible to love. It's the Mario formula distilled down into an algorithm of bing bing wahoo wonderment and cash register sounds.

And it has a bunch of Skinner Boxes, too. There are certain rocks that, if you break them, give you a Moon. But they just look like rocks, so the game is telling us we have to break every single rock and it's conditioning us to do so with randomly doled out Moons; an easy, repetitive task with a random reward. There are certain spots that give moons if you ground pound them; an easy, repetitive task with a random reward.

In Odyssey, rewards are practically the only content; the game will throw you an easy but at least engaging scenario sometimes, but overwhelmingly Odyssey's only challenge is the time it takes to go from point A to point B, on foot. It's almost comically bloated with these unnecessary collectibles whose only purpose is to get players hooked on collecting them.

Here's a comparison for Odyssey's intended audience: I came across something very similar in these branded Roblox games that big companies keep making. They have almost no meaningful content, but lots of jingling coins and costumes to buy. These games exist within a framework kids like and understand--Roblox is an unbelieveably popular game--but they use it to sneak in a mental association between pleasure and the brand in question. They are desire-producing machines just subtle and hidden enough for parents to miss them.

Business has always shaped games, but it's gotten worse. The technology--the spectacle--is getting better all the time, companies are avoiding risk more than ever, and player psychology is being used in unethical ways to get people hooked.

{== read the whole "rant" which follows then cut the first line in here.==}
Did things have to turn out like this?

{== claire de lune for a second... ==}

Odyssey's cheap tricks are just like using this song to prime you for an emotional moment. They're just pushing some button that other media programmed in us; Odyssey is rewards without challenges, summoning up a ghost of achievements past, and my use of this song is priming you for an unearned existential point.

{== music restarts ==}

Did things have to turn out like this?

I'm not entirely sure, but here's the beginning of an answer.

Shoot-em-ups are the polar opposite of whatever Mario is today; they're tight, demanding games that tend to last less than an hour. All great shoot-em-ups represent some new development or philosophical statement. They ask questions about how the character should move, how weapons should work, how enemy patterns should be used, or how numerous and fast bullets should be. And each great game shows a distinct understanding of the genre's history.

DoDonPachi Dai-Ou-Jou {== die oh joe ==} or Blissful Death in English, developed by Cave and released in April of 2002, is a perfect 20-minute lightning bolt of a video game. The original DonPachi, released 7 years earlier, finally gave the player something to do other than mash the fire button; if you hold down fire, your ship unleashes a massive laser and slows way down, allowing you to weave between bullets. DonPachi furthered the legacy of Toaplan, an independent studio that inspired the revered bullet hell. Batsugun, and the earlier Grind Stormer, gave us smaller hitboxes along with more, slower bullets.

Blissful Death's hitbox is a single pixel, and navigating its five impossibly hostile stages feels like magic. It plays like a response to Treasure's puzzle-infused Ikaruga. Where Ikaruga expands the shoot-em-up, DoDonPachi asserts the primacy of bullets.

One of the things that makes us human is that we can imagine things, then put them into the world through our work. We can synthesize knowledge to handle situations that animals can't begin to comprehend. If a bullet is being shot directly at you and you find a way to survive, you are the smartest creature in the universe.

Our penchant for industry also gives us the tools to manipulate one another. Advertisers in the 20th century discovered that powerful emotions stir us to spend money, and slot machines make this principle into a perfect circuit: moment-by-moment, spending money gives the player an intense cocktail of positive emotions. In the 80s and 90s games weren't as finely tuned as Mario Odyssey is, but games have always created the desires that they fulfill, same as a slot machine.

Our task is to find the line, where gambling or gaming become exploitation and addiction. I wanted to discover an untarnished history of amazing games at the arcade, and on the NES, but nothing in life is that simple. All fiction creates virtual desires that it fulfills, that's what gets us invested: I want to explore Rain World, I want to see what dumb decisions Dmitry makes {== brothers K ==}. There are always carrots on sticks, but all of the truth that a piece of art contains is revealed by our journey through it, not by a summary written afterward. The conflict at the heart of all games is between the rat-like satisfaction of collectibles, and a higher satisfaction, the truth revealed by game mechanics.

Blissful Death's music tracks are named after the shoot-em-up studios that inspired Cave's team. It's final stage features other bosses from the series, fought one after another. In a way it's a capstone of the genre's beautifully imperfect, sprawling history. Or a chapter marker.

{== CAVE Gacha ==}

Maybe things did have to turn out this way. Sure we'll always have independent developers, but--and I mean no offence here--Tactical Nexus is not going to carry the torch for games as a hobby no matter how great it is. {== Somebody asked me in the comments on a video if I was into many puzzle games, I said no at the time but you should play Tactical Nexus it's awesome ==} That's what AAA games are for, they bring in new people and introduce them to different genres and design patterns in a friendly way. If we're lucky they'll become interested in games and start developing their tastes in different directions.

Big, expensive games are a funnel. When I was a little kid Metroid Prime gave me a wonderfully realized alien civilization that fucked up 23 year old boomer me seeks in something like Dwarf Fortress. But more and more I see game studios of any significant size moving toward gacha trash. Animal Crossing Pocket Camp is just as cynical and joyless as Family Guy: The Quest For Stuff even if you prefer the look of one over the other. Bullet hells are about as niche as you can get, and even CAVE makes gacha games now. We're not all the way there yet, maybe the industry stabilizes somewhere and developers draw a line, but there is a shift happening.

As a recovering Nintendo fan I hate to say it, but Sony's cohort of partner studios has done a lot more interesting things than Nintendo lately. Sony's money gave us Demon's Souls and Death Stranding, the former is the most influential game of the 21st century and Death Stranding actually had the balls to try something new with character movement that I really hope influences somebody.

But if you want another layer of ambiguity, Sony shut down Japan Studio in 2021, scattering the people who helped to make PaRappa the Rapper, Ape Escape, Vib-Ribbon, Ico, Lifeline, Bloodborne and so many other pioneering games.

Thinking about it more, the nature of games isn't really what's in question here. We can't mourn the loss of something that didn't exist, and the incredible variety of expressions that games are capable of has been on display for the last hour, mostly as background to the cynical money talk, but nonetheless. Games can be meaningful; DoDonPachi is meaningful, and CAVE's current business model doesn't change that.

{== A number of CAVE's big names left right before the studio transitioned to mobile games. ==}

The real question is whether games can survive the structures that they're made within.

Right now, the arc of history is bending games away from mechanical challenge and toward meaningless rewards that condition us to buy into microtransactions. Content is slowly gutted in favour of reward systems, great masses of annoying skill trees and numbers next to icons as games balloon in size to keep you on the treadmill for longer. I don't know where it stops, and I'm not convinced that it does stop. It's already pretty much normal for games to have shops, and that's just going to saturate AAA games more and more.

Death Stranding is the polar opposite of this kind of design, it has us contemplating and engaging with every step our character takes rather than stupidly navigating a camera toward some animal-shaped trigger that makes the "deer skin" number in an inventory go up after an animation plays.

Death Stranding is a video game. DoDonPachi is a video game.

{== thanks for playin' this game, bye==}

I focused on shoot 'em ups because they're a sort of extreme example, but a game doesn't need to be hard to be well-designed. Shoot-em-ups have gotten very good at matching the player's reward to their level of achievement. They prove that we could have a 3D Mario with levels that actually live up to the game's mechanics.

As is, Mario Odyssey is going to give you at least four or five hundred Moons no matter how good or bad you are, and the level of difficulty doesn't really go up. Even in the 80s designers knew that if difficulty slowly increased, players would learn and adapt along with the game, whether the players were kids or not.

I don't know what came first in Odyssey: the decision to orient the game around picking stuff up or its total lack of challenge, but each of these things feeds the other. Lack of interesting platforming challenges means the game has to be full of something content-like that doesn't use the game's mechanics, while a game with almost 900 collectibles cannot have 900 collectibles worth of interesting game design; it would take decades to make and would probably end up bloated in other ways.

My issue is not that it's easy, I think we all know that these games demand very little, my problem is that Odyssey simultaneously leaves a lot on the table in terms of what it could do--with both its platforming and the capture system--and the amount of junk sidequest pseudo-fun is overwhelming. The game's repetition and the low quality of most of the content devalues what little the game has, and finding the fun means struggling through a swamp of jingling keys.

I think it's telling that Odyssey has been embraced by speedrunners, because it's at its most fun when you ignore developer intentions and just play around with the movement. But I can't credit Odyssey for the challenges that its community imposed on it. Reviewing a game in terms of what could be in it makes no sense; I'm not saying you shouldn't enjoy it, just that the game's actual goals are insulting.

Anyway, with all my complaining done, the fact that I can compare Nintendo's 2022 smash hit games with their 1985 smash hit games speaks to their dominance and the high quality of what they release.

Nintendo laid claim to 90% of the video game market going into the 90s, enough to scare even Apple and IBM. For players, the NES represented fun, but Nintendo is a business. They were the only people producing their hardware, and they made money on the software through sales and licensing. Eventually they produced all the cartridges too, putting third-party games on them and selling them back to licensees [39, p. 94-95]. Mario 3 was the second best-selling media thing of all time when it came out, and Nintendo was raking in 1-and-a-half million dollars per employee in 1991 [39] , p. 16].

{-- Journalist David Sheff couldn't help but characterize Nintendo as a Japanese invader in his 1993 book Game Over. It's not totally clear whether he's embodying Nintendo's opponents or sharing his own opinions. Another writer, --}

So the media did what it always does. Scott Rosenberg, who went on to found Salon dot com tried, unconvincingly, to make the case that Mario is an "existential hero."

It may be that in Mario's fate--stuck in a world not of his own choosing, charged with a nearly impossible mission, doomed to perish sooner or later, yet free while he lives to grow, learn, slay demons and stop to smell the Fire Flowers—people are catching a crude, bright, hypnotic reflection of their own lives.

Above quote is from [39, p. 22].

You only get writing like this when people are actively refusing to understand something. It's the kind of sneering, bullshit article that has to call itself satire so you know it's supposed to be funny. The writing of somebody deciding that they're going to become old. Journalist David Sheff does a similar thing in his 1993 book Game Over:

Generations of children had been imbued with Mickey's message: We play fair and we work hard and we're in harmony.... M-I-C ... See you real soon. K-E-Y ... Why? Because we like you ... Mario imparted other values: Kill or be killed. Time is running out. You are on your own.

{== some kind of editing joke here, maybe machine gun fire, dramatic close-ups, colour grading on SMB footage. ==}

This is serious writing from a 600 page book about Nintendo. But despite some of the weirdness, Sheff's book is an incredible account of the company's history built out of tons of interviews Sheff did with Nintendo staff and others close to the story.

The NES let Nintendo play hardball with everybody: they had strict contracts with retailers and third-party developers, and if they shut you out of the NES it could kill your company. Sadly for Nintendo, once games were in people's hands they couldn't control them. Video rental stores expanded into video games in the late 80s, and Nintendo's people were not happy about it. The NES was a cash cow because Nintendo controlled the hardware and the software, and the Blockbuster Videos of the world eroded that just a little.

I couldn't find anyone admitting to this, but some games from 1988 onward were supposedly padded for length so that players couldn't beat them in a rental period. The confusing, random stuff you have to do in Castlevania 2, for example, may well be there to stop renters from beating the game.

The chairman of Nintendo of America, Howard Lincoln, likened rentals to rape, because he is absolutely tasteless. He was a lawyer--no surprise--who conceived of the Game Genie as a device that creates "derivative works" out of Nintendo games. They tried to keep the Game Genie from going to market, and NoA won two trials before losing a third [39, pp. 409-410]. I didn't know you could just reroll judges until you get lucky, but here we are.

Nintendo's attitude toward anything outside their walled garden has always been stupid. We all hate that any popular Nintendo fan game, like Milton Guasti's Metroid 2 remake AM2R, gets wiped from the face of the earth by Nintendo's legal team, but they've gotten away with it since the 80s. They've just picking targets who can't lawyer up.

{-- I don't know if it's a lack of Japanese sources or a difference in attitude overseas, but there were products that let you edit Famicom games all the way back in 1987, and it seems like they weren't an issue for Nintendo of Japan. Tonkachi Mario, made in the Tonkachi Editor, is one of the first Romhacks, and the Tonkachi Editor page on Japanese Wikipedia does not have a "controversy" section, for whatever that's worth. --}

There would soon be another assault on Nintendo's business plan, and it was a much more serious one. Third-parties didn't like Nintendo's terms, and competing hardware companies really didn't like Nintendo's success. Through the 80s, any debate about the role of computers in society was denied in favour of slowly putting them everywhere. Computers were no longer an ominous possibility, they were just here, so video games weren't such a potent enemy. Instead the battleground would be where these computers came from.

Representatives for Atari, owned at this time by the leviathan Time Warner, headed to Washington in 1989 to tell the chair of an antitrust committee all about Nintendo's dealings. Antitrust refers to laws around monopolies and trusts, which are basically corporate alliances. Monopoly is a pretty relevant thing considering Nintedo's market share. The company was thrust to the front lines of a trade war, and what followed was a series of metaphors straight out of a bad novel: the president of Nintendo bought an American baseball team, the Seattle Mariners, and the antitrust committee announced its findings on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

This was about something else. Recent American political history is all about redirecting people's fear and anger into scapegoats, targets whose fall doesn't hurt the overall system. There was a real antitrust case against Nintendo, but I doubt the market would look much different with or without the NES lockout chip, the licensing agreements, or their other questionable practices. Nintendo made better games, and the NES had better games than whatever was left of Atari.

The antitrust case was an opportunistic move on the part of Atari and the U.S. federal government. Atari got to strike out at their competitor, and politicians got to argue that Nintendo was smuggling Japanese computers to America in the form of an innocent toy. Life was getting worse in the States, and politicians didn't have, or couldn't give people the reasons why.

In the 70s western economies were experiencing something called stagflation; there was high inflation and the economy was not growing. Economists like to pretend they know how the world works, but their stories weren't explaining the problem and their solutions weren't working. Stagflation is a problem whose solutions just make it worse. You fix a stagnant economy by increasing the money supply, but that causes inflation. You fix inflation by raising interest rates, but that slows the economy down.

What happened is way beyond the scope of this video, but to put it simply the old economic theories were replaced by free market evangelism. The new story said that you could fix the government's economy problem by taking the government out of the economy. Remember, the economy is everything: if we feed people with public money, which was rebranded as tax-payer money, Wal-Mart loses a sale. If we house people, who will pay the poor real estate companies?

So in the 80s and 90s there were tax cuts, banks were de-regulated, welfare was severely limited, and most importantly there were some big free trade agreements struck between countries. The incentives changed: it was cheaper to make products in other countries and ship them to the States.

That's where Nintendo comes in; nobody in power was willing to explain why American manufacturing was shrinking, and the issue became a front in the culture war, a place where everybody can get mad and nothing changes. Nintendo was an object of hate, a Japanese invader that people could use to discharge their anxiety about jobs. All of this was intermingled with the beginnings of computer automation; programmable logic controllers, the building block of industrial automation, were maturing and taking away even more jobs using the same processors that drove the NES and the 2600.

{-- I've said this already, but there's a core of truth to all of the dumb fears. Maybe the reason media figures refused to actually play games, and take them on their own terms, was that they would realize video games weren't the problem. --}

But Nintendo got out of it. The case was settled in 1991, just in time for the Super Nintendo. The FTC got Nintendo to relax its licensing policy a little bit, and made them send $5 coupons out to NES owners [40] . The government systematically ripped out its own teeth, so what were they gonna do? American politics is about symbolic gestures now.

That's the story of home consoles. For all Atari's cries of monopoly, Nintendo was reigned in by Sony and Sega, companies whose games and hardware could actually compete. There are lots of details we could fill in, but this video's already long. I focused on the NES because with it video games secured their future and the industry reached a kind of equilibrium, at least until the internet.

Companies rose and fell and we've had decades of console wars, but the structure of the game industry was in place. Rentals would continue and licensing slowly became more and more permissive. The era of the PS1, Saturn, and N64 was when most of the most interesting games came out, but those games deserve their own videos.


Nintendo's practices got them in trouble with the N64. They held onto the obsolete cartridge format, and competition from the more convenient and powerful Dreamcast and PS1 meant that the N64 basically got no third party support.

For better or worse, we still live in the shadow of the NES. The vision of Nintendo's designers, and the company's business strategies, reshaped everything. We still have the same merchandising, the same approach to third-party licensing, the same cutthroat competition between game companies. All of these weird business configurations are what get AAA games made.

While the whole world dies

{== write 666 on a Pokemon card or something idk ==}

And by the time Pokemon came out, the business was complicated. The moral ambiguity of that Time magazine article is kind of ironic, since it's suit-wearing business-doing audience were probably salivating at Pokemon's merchandise potential. Pokemon in its original form really isn't a big offender. I talked about the card game already, but the video games are kind of interesting.

It's always been tradition to release two slightly different Pokemon games at the same time. The idea is that you can trade with a friend to get the exclusive Pokemon from both versions. There's a bit of peer pressure marketing there but it's also just a fun idea, a way to bring back some of the socialization that games have lost.

Pokemon's Collect 'em All ethos hit a little too close to home for some people. It was a perfect fit for America, a country driven more and more by consumption as manufacturers moved abroad. Parents saw their kids turn into grim reflections of the world they lived in: Pokemon-collecting fourth graders became cutthroat business psychos, conducting trades and stomping their opponents. Nintendo as a whole was the enemy once, but Pokemon was the new and potent front in the culture war.

The moral panic about video games has only ever moved inward and downward; the issues get more specific, the stakes get much lower, but the voices get a lot louder. Nobody even wanted to ban Pokemon, they just wanted to unlock the secrets of its satanic symbols or point vaguely at the universe of merchandising that sprung up around it.

The world fell apart in the background, in a slow creep of misery, while people drove themselves insane talking about an unassuming RPG on the GameBoy. We were hurtling toward the new millenium, the housing crisis, the networking of everyone and everything, but we could only see it in a kind of mediated way, by connecting school shootings to Doom and calling Nintendo satanic. Kids turned into savages over a card game, so we blamed the kids and the cards. Meanwhile all of our luxuries were built on exploding the entire world.

The infrastructure of American society changed quietly; computers came in, and corporate power grew as politics shifted gears into symbolic wrestling matches with no bearing on reality. {== Extremely slowed down Obamna Soda?==} {== sample the C.S. video or keep it subtle? ==} The world became so saturated with misery and cognitive dissonance that it left everyone in a state of vertigo, never quite able to orient themselves. And here we are, tilting at Polywhirl-shaped windmills while everything falls apart. I'm doing it too, but what else is there?

Pokemon was the apex and the final whimper of the war against video games; politicians still try to get games banned but it just isn't going to happen anymore [41]. For their entire infancy, video games were caught in wave after wave of controversy, and it was only the huge collective sigh of boomers that freed them. For us acolytes, the people playing shoot 'em ups in dark arcades or college students crashing their university networks to run Doom servers, or kids exposed to the pure joy of Mario 3 there was never any doubt about the value of games. But going into the 2000s we truly won the mainstream; Diablo 2, Halo, GTA 3, and World of Warcraft were all on the horizon.

{== might be a theme to come back to: is this what you wanted? ==}

Once gambling machines got excommunicated from arcades, there was a thirty year span or so where video games were generally good and not very exploitative. The pay-per-play model at the arcades, and the pay-per-game model at home both influenced game design but the influence wasn't in a bad direction.

Everything that can be sold is an opportunity. In business, consistent profit isn't good enough: profits have to grow. Just selling the games satisfied the machine for a while, but the game industry needed a new horizon to conquer.

Next time: The internet. Doom, Diablo, online games, and some other stuff we know and love like DLC, subscriptions, and microtransactions.


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